Get ready for new push against smoking

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It’s been four years since then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a law outlawing smoking in work places and enclosed public places.

In one swoop, people could breathe easier in restaurants, malls, auditoriums and other gathering spaces. (Bars, casinos and private clubs were exempt.)

But even so, Hoosiers continue to light ‘em up.

A new report issued this week shows that 20 percent of Indiana adults smoke, higher than the U.S. median of 18 percent.

The report, called the 2016 County Health Rankings, is just the latest evidence that Indiana is far from the healthiest state in the union. It also shows that Hoosiers are doing worse than the nation in preventable hospital stays, mammography screenings, air pollution, long commutes, high school graduation rates, violent crime, number of children living in single-parent households and rate of sexually transmitted infections.

(To be fair, Indiana is doing better than the U.S. median for teen births, excessive drinking and death from injuries. It ties the nation for obesity.)

But back to smoking—it’s an issue that Indiana just can’t shake. And it’s costing a lot of money: about $2.9 billion a year in direct medical costs and low productivity, according to the American Lung Association.

Now, get ready for a new push by a public health officials and health executives across Indiana. Some say they are alarmed by the state of public health here and are holding discussions among themselves on how to improve the state’s health.

The group, which will include hospital executives and state health officials, are still considering the best way to approach the issue, and it could be months before they are ready to announce their game plan.

But don’t be surprised if the strategy boils down to a combination of discouraging unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking and smoking, and encouraging healthy activities, such as exercise and getting better nutrition.

“Public health should be a concern for everyone in Indiana,” said Dennis Murphy, president of Indiana University Health, the state’s largest system of hospitals, clinics and doctors. “We can’t continue on this path.”

Near the top of their list is cigarette smoking. And the group is considering all options on how to bring the rate down.

Earlier this year, the Indiana General Assembly flirted with the idea of raising taxes on cigarettes and gasoline to fund road repairs. Indiana currently charges tax of 99.5 cents on a pack of cigarettes, making it one of the lowest tax rates in the nation (34th).

The plan was seen primarily as a way to raise millions of dollars for roads. But it probably would discourage smoking, too. Those things often go hand in hand, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

But, in the end, Indiana leaders changed course. Instead of increasing the cost of a pack of smokes, they decided to tap the state’s budget reserves to fund $800 million worth of road repairs.

This is Indiana, after all, where low taxes are religion, especially in an election year.

But don’t be surprised if the group of health officials makes another push or two for discouraging smoking—perhaps taking another crack at higher cigarette taxes.

The goal is to make Indiana healthier. And to keep Hoosiers from smoking like a forest fire.

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